Home Improvement

Selling Your Home When Decluttering Seems Impossible

Modern living room

Declutter: the word most home sellers dread hearing and few are willing to listen to.

You’re not a hoarder, after all, and in fact you get rid of things every year. How can you be expected to trim down even more as you get your home ready to sell? And how do you know when you’ve reached that seemingly unattainable level of declutter the real estate pros want to see?

While it may feel harsh when you’ve always been proud of your home, “declutter” is typically tossed around in real estate as a catchall for family photos, extra seating and full bookshelves and closets that are part of a normal, lived-in home, but don’t help buyers envision themselves living there.

“Buyers walk into your house and they know the price, and they’re looking for a reason to a) not pay that price or b) not buy your house,” says Scott Gentry, a Realtor for Keller Williams Realty in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Pushing back on removing items from your home while it’s on the market is similar to any resistance you may give to suggested updates to the kitchen, bathroom or wall color. But as much as you don’t want to do any of those tasks, they play a part in how buyers absorb your house and compare it to others they’ve seen.

“People sometimes get distracted, and they’re paying more attention to whatever paint color is on the wall versus how the flow of the room is,” says Marcia Dorolek, a real estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Pristine in Bonita Springs, Florida.

It can be difficult to identify the areas you need to declutter most in your home, so getting a professional opinion beyond that of your real estate agent is often helpful. Fortunately, the home staging and professional organizing industries regularly work with homeowners to prepare their home for sale.

It’s fairly common for professional organizers to be called in by either a real estate agent or home stager working to get a property ready for sale, says Ellen Delap, a certified professional organizer and board president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Other times, sellers will call on their own because “they feel overwhelmed by the project itself,” Delap says.

The process isn’t about purging your belongings, but rather preparing the space for sale and making your future move more efficient, so you’re not transporting or storing items you don’t want anymore – or may not have room for.

Of course, working with professionals who specialize in helping you organize your life also means that word you don’t want to hear – declutter – is hardly used, if at all. Delap explains the process is about helping you determine what you don’t need anymore or can store as you sell your home, not just reduce the amount of stuff you have. “We use the word ‘eliminate’ a lot,” she says.

If you’re still feeling hesitant about reducing what’s in your home, here are three reasons to rethink doing so before you put your property on the market.

You’ve lived there a long time. If you’re preparing to sell your house, chances are you’ve lived there for at least a few years. That means you’ve likely accumulated more than you realize and probably have more than you need in your next house.

“If they’ve lived in their home for any length of time, things have built up more than they might have wanted to, and so they wanted more of a fresh start,” Delap says. “They don’t want to take extra things with them, either to pay for the moving or to feel overwhelmed when they get to their new space.”

Before you start putting things in boxes to move, it makes sense to go through everything you own first and get rid of what you don’t want anymore. You’ll likely halve the belongings hiding in the depths of your closets and cabinets in the process.

You want to make the move easier. The best way to save on the cost of moving is to simply move fewer items. For the sellers who contact professional organizers of their own accord, Delap says they see the assistance as a way to facilitate the entire process.

“They want to move more quickly, and they want to be efficient and financially savvy about how they can maximize the sale of their home,” Delap says.

Professional organizers can help identify organizations and companies that accept big-ticket items, such as furniture and appliances, as donations or for junk removal, or help you recycle appliances, furniture and used items like carpet. Groups like the Salvation Army and Purple Heart will pick up many donations at your home if you schedule a time with the group.

You want to maximize profits on the sale of your home. A home with less, rather than more, inside it is going to be easier to sell every time – and more likely to sell for more because buyers are able to fall in love with the house itself, not your stuff.

While it may be a hot housing market, that doesn’t mean sellers can be lazy when it comes to preparing the house for sale. Buyers are competitive and willing to increase offers to win a property, but that means they’re also expecting a home in the right condition.

“If you’re not already the most expensive house in the neighborhood, it’s better to do the work if you can afford to,” Gentry says.

Here are four things to keep on eye out for on a walk-through of your home – and pack up ahead of time:

  • Photos. Even if your family is made up of stock photo models, it’s best to put all family photos out of sight prior to your home going on the market. It’s easier for buyers to picture the home as their own without the reminder that other people currently live there.
  • Tabletop decor. You don’t want completely blank surfaces, but less is more certainly serves as a rule when it comes to candles, artwork and plants. The age-old accessory rule in fashion is to remove one item before you walk out the door, and it can work when it comes to staging a room as well. Plus, Gentry notes, “Very few people would have the same taste.” It’s best to move toward a more neutral decor overall.
  • Furniture. Rather than ensuring enough seating for the entire fantasy football league, furniture should help a room look larger when staged to sell and avoid blocking pathways from one doorway to another. “The condition of the furniture is important,” Dorolek adds. A faded couch or chair that’s been ripped up by the cat are great candidates for removing to reduce the amount of furniture you have in a room. If the piece has sentimental value, stick it in storage while the property is on the market.
  • Stored items. Closets, pantries and cabinets should be pretty sparse when the potential buyers are touring the house. “Open up as much closet space as you can so it looks very spacious,” Delap says.

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